Reflections on Leadership

Yesterday I posted a blog on whether we should be labelling children or not and it caused a bit of a localised twitterstorm with impassioned views flying back and forth for and against. This has got me thinking about the influence of leadership in a school and how it impacts on behaviour; there is also a direct link to the perceived use of labels.

Over the years I have worked in various schools and encountered a range of leadership styles. These broadly fall (for me) into three categories:
Firstly there are the Dictators, the ‘my way or the highway’ types who rule by fear and use an iron grip to keep behaviour in check (teachers and children!). They are often charismatic, although not in a good way, and are heavily reliant on rigid power-based control systems which are inflexible and mitigate against personal growth and development. They accept children acquire labels along the way but don’t let this interfere with discipline.

Secondly there are the Professors, those with a lot of knowledge about child development and conditions such as ODD, ADHD but not much common sense about how schools work. They talk the talk but cannot walk the walk and in my opinion are the worst of the bunch. Their schools are characterised by organisational chaos and the children don’t THINK they are in charge they KNOW they are in charge! Staff are regularly undermined and the children can be found in the head’s office complaining about their teachers! Professors think we should love children better and we often have the bruises to prove it!

Thirdly there are the Motivators, these get the best out of staff and children, lead by example and have a shrewd understanding of what makes us all tick. We know they are in charge but in a positive way. They never let children use their ‘conditions’ as an excuse for poor behaviour but have time to spare in times of genuine need. Their schools are characterised by a positive, calm ethos which engenders teaching and
learning with clear rules and boundaries; respect for adults and each other is not optional.

So what do I conclude from these reflections? Ultimately, a school is only as good as its leader- sadly my experience of working for a Professor nearly caused me to quit my job and has been a scarring experience! At least dictators keep control ! Fortunately I have worked with some brilliant Motivators including my present HT (thankfully)! In our PRU relationships are key and children know that they are not in charge. Yes there are blips and problems but we work as a team to sort them out.

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SHOULD WE LABEL CHILDREN?

I am deputy and SENCO in a primary PRU and I recently read a blog which discussed whether we should be labelling children ADHD, ASD etc or meeting their needs as unique individuals.  From a personal perspective I incline to the latter view but the pragmatic SENCO in me favours the former. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, children are excluded because they present challenging behaviours but  in many cases they have underlying issues which are undiagnosed. If a ‘label’ had been applied at an earlier stage then the child could have received the help and support they needed in mainstream; it is distressing for a child with acute ASD to be placed in a BESD setting as strategies to manage behaviour alone are at odds with strategies for ASD particularly when the child has sensory issues.
Secondly, when children come to us without a ‘label’ and struggle to access even our small classes then we have a problem. We are only a short stay provision and if the child cannot cope with a mainstream school due to SEN where is he or she to go? In order to move the child to a suitable specialist provision we need to begin statutory assessment procedures; an EP needs to diagnose and we need SEND support. The fact of the matter is the child needs a ‘label’.
So there is a dichotomy here; a PRU cannot operate effectively without applying labels although we recognise the need to look at the whole child. We do discourage children from seeing themselves as a series of ‘conditions’ but the reality is we have to!

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